Briton held in
Yemen is not Muslim
by Brian Whitaker, Rory Carroll and
Originally published in The Observer,
31 January 1999
TWO OF THE Britons facing
terrorist charges in Aden are not Islamic fundamentalists - and one is not even a Muslim,
a high-level Yemeni source told The Observer yesterday.
This astonishing claim deepens the mystery surrounding the alleged
bomb plot and the motives of those behind it.
Yemeni guards who were told they were holding Islamic
extremists were surprised to find that two of the men were not practising Muslims.
During interrogation, red-haired Muhsin Ghailan, 18,
stepson of Abu Hamza, the Finsbury Park imam, had been asked his religion and replied
Shortly afterwards he changed his mind and claimed he was
To settle the matter, according to the source, his
interrogators decided to check if he was circumcised - and found he was not.
This, it is suggested, may be the basis of Ghailan's
protests in court last Wednesday that he had been sexually abused.
Ghailan also amazed his guards by not knowing how many
times a day a Muslim is supposed to pray or showing any interest in which wall of his cell
At least two of the prisoners are said to have requested
food during daytime at the height of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to fast.
Some guards were so surprised they assumed the men must be
mercenaries, come to bomb Aden solely for the alleged pounds 1,200 fortnightly retainer
offered by Abu Hassan, who led the kidnapping of British tourists in the Yemen last month.
Last night Abu Hamza confirmed that Ghailan was not a
devout Muslim. 'When he was here he was not even wearing the proper Islamic dress,' he
said. 'I wanted him to learn the Koran but he chose to learn about electronics instead.
He's not a bad boy but I wanted him to be a cleric like me.'
Abu Hamza continued: 'I would have loved him if he had
made a stand like Abu al-Hassan because his people are religiously motivated. They stand
firm even if they get killed. This is why I don't even bother to defend my stepson. I have
to concentrate on the principle. All the Yemenis and Egyptian young people are my sons.'
Another defendant with no known interest in fundamentalism
is 26-year-old Malik Nasser Harhara, who has dual British and Yemeni nationality. Friends
who knew him at Westminster University, where he studied information technology, have been
astonished to find him linked to religious fanatics.
They remember him instead as a formidable drinker.
In Aden, the second day of the trial of the five Britons
and an Algerian several times flared into confusion and fury yesterday. Suspects shouted
they had been framed and pointed to a security force major as they man who led their
Apart from Ghalain and Malik Nassar, the accused Britons
are Samad Ahmed, 21, and Shahid Butt, 33, from Birmingham, and Ghulam Hussein, 25, from
Luton. They and the Algerian man were arrested on 24 December.
The court was told that Ghalain and two other Britons
escaped a police road block in a car full of explosives by driving at high speed on the
wrong side of the motorway.
A police officer said they hit a parked truck and fled on
foot after abandoning their car in a busy street.
He walked from the witness stand to the dock and
identified Ghailan as being the front-seat passenger. Relatives of the five other suspects
shouted, 'Lies, lies', from the back of the court.
The police officer who testifed about the road block,
Mohammad Ahmed Asha'bi, 26, appeared to taunt the suspects by grinning broadly.
Yesterday International Development Secretary Clare Short
appealed to campaigners not to make 'crazy' statements. She made her intervention as
Yemen's Prosecutor-General told the Aden court that some media reports were 'inaccurate
and false' and could affect the course of justice.
The case was adjourned until tomorrow.